The by-election that could bring down Brown
GORDON Brown was last night warned that his premiership was unlikely to survive the loss of the Glasgow East by-election so soon after the resignation of Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Labour leader.
Already under pressure over deserting party donors and a humiliating fifth place behind the British National Party in last week's Henley by-election, Mr Brown had to cope with the loss of Ms Alexander – an ally and supporter – who quit as leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament over the weekend.
Many in the Labour Party now believe victory for the Nationalists in Glasgow East – one of the safest Labour seats in the UK – could force Mr Brown out of 10 Downing Street.
One senior Labour source at Westminster said last night that he believed the Prime Minister would have to go if Labour failed to hold on to a safe seat in the East End of Glasgow. The vote could be held as early as 24 July.
"If we lost, it would be a disaster. I think we will hold on but if we didn't, he (Mr Brown] would resign," the source said.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said it would be "devastatingly bad news" for Mr Brown if the SNP won the Glasgow East by- election.
He said: "Gordon Brown's position is not very secure and it is perhaps crossing the minds of some of his colleagues that they might have to say to him, 'Look you can't necessarily carry on'.
"He does need to shore up his position; I don't think he can withstand another unexpected crisis. That might just bring him down."
SNP leaders believe the Glasgow by-election – triggered by the resignation of MP David Marshall for health reasons – is within their grasp given the turmoil in the Scottish Labour Party following Ms Alexander's resignation.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said his party would give the by-election "the biggest possible go we can" and warned the Prime Minister's future was now out of Labour's hands and would be decided, at least in part, by the verdict of the people of Glasgow East.
The SNP would need a 22 per cent swing from Labour to take the seat. They have achieved big swings in two previous Glasgow by-elections – in Govan in 1973 and 1988 – and believe they can do so again.
The SNP stepped up the pressure as Labour managers in Scotland tried to find some way of managing the fallout from Ms Alexander's sudden resignation on Saturday.
Senior officials were keen to play down the prospect of a "bloodbath", insisting that the main contenders for the leadership got on well and, although there were policy differences between them, they were united in their desire to return the party to power in Scotland.
Jack McConnell, the former Labour first minister, yesterday said it was vital there was a leadership contest, with no interference from Mr Brown or the London Labour leadership.
He said: "One key factor here is that the party members in Scotland make a choice without any influence, either from me, for example, who has been in the position (of Scottish leader] in the past, or from senior figures in the party leadership from elsewhere."
Henry McLeish, another former Labour first minister, said he hoped the leadership election would take place as soon as possible, in order to allow the winning candidate to be in place in time for the new parliamentary session at the start of September.
Cathy Jamieson, Scottish Labour's deputy leader, who will take over from Ms Alexander until the leadership election later this summer, yesterday said she was "actively considering" entering the contest.
Ms Jamieson is likely to be joined in the race by Iain Gray, the former enterprise minister, Andy Kerr, the former health minister, and possibly Margaret Curran, the former communities minister. Bill Butler, a back-bencher, may stand for the Left, if he can win the support of enough MSPs. There may also be a deputy leadership contest, with MSPs Rhona Brankin, Tom McCabe and Pauline McNeill possible contenders
Although sources close to Mr Gray made it clear he would stand, none of the potential candidates are expected to declare their intentions publicly until party managers decide on a timetable for the contest later this week.
That timetable is likely to come too late for the Glasgow East by-election.
Mr Salmond said yesterday that the Nationalists believed the situation was now so bad for Labour that they could take the seat from them.
He said: "If there is a by-election declared next week, then we will give it the biggest possible go we can.
"In the current atmosphere in Scottish politics, things become possible which hitherto would have been thought to be impossible."
Mr Salmond said the SNP would fight the by-election on a range of national issues, such as the pressure on family budgets and the cost of fuel.
And he suggested the by-election could signal the end for the Prime Minister, if it went against Labour.
He said: "The question (of Mr Brown's future] is ultimately in the hands of the people, not in the hands of the Labour Party. The imminent electoral test in Scotland will surely provide another indication of where the wind's blowing."
Privately, Labour sources predict the by-election will be similar to the contest in the Hamilton South seat in 1999, where the SNP reduced a 16,000 Labour majority to just 500.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister suffered a further blow yesterday when a former party donor warned Labour was doomed to failure under his leadership.
Business guru Sir Gerry Robinson said Mr Brown appeared incapable of leading and had left the party in "probably an impossible position to come back from".
And there was further bad news when other backers stated publicly that they would not continue to fund the party, a development which could become critical for Labour in the next few weeks as it has to pay back 7.4 million of loans on 1 July.
There has been speculation at Westminster that Mr Marshall stood down partly over concerns about employing members of his family.
Mr Marshall has employed his wife and daughter, Christina – who was caught up in both the so-called "lobbygate" and "Wishawgate" controversies involving Jack McConnell between 1999 and 2004, when she worked as his constituency secretary.
However, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, yesterday insisted that Mr Marshall stood down due to health reasons.
He said: "People will speculate about all these things but the fact is this man's health is such that he cannot continue to do his job. I do not believe there is any evidence to suggest that there is any other reason."
Alan Johnson, the UK Health Secretary, rallied supporters behind Mr Brown yesterday, insisting that "in terms of what he is achieving, in very difficult circumstances, it has been a good year" for the Prime Minister and that voters would back him.
Last night, a Downing Street spokesman refused to comment on whether Mr Brown would resign if Labour lost the Glasgow East by-election.
Process of finding new leader may take months
Who will oversee the leadership election?
The Procedures Committee of the Scottish Executive Committee. It is comprised of the Scottish General Secretary Colin Smyth (who is the Procedures Secretary), plus the chair, vice-chair and treasurer of the SEC.
When does the election start?
On the day that the Procedures Committee meet to agree the timetable. The Procedures Committee will meet later this week, probably on Friday.
Who can stand?
Any Labour MSP can nominate themselves or be nominated by other MSPs. Nominees are required to have the support of 12.5 per cent of Labour MSPs. There are 46 MSPs so the threshold required is six.
Will there be hustings?
Yes. All candidates will be expected to attend a series of hustings around Scotland.
What if there is just one nominee?
If there is just one nominee a joint meeting of the SEC and the Labour MSP group will be held to confirm that nominee as the new leader.
If there is more than one candidate, how will the ballot work?
All candidates who receive a sufficient number of nominations from Labour MSPs will go forward to a one-member, one-vote postal ballot. There are three sections entitled to vote in the ballot: elected representatives (MSPs, MPs and MEPs), Scottish Labour Party members and members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party in Scotland.
What happens then?
The votes from each section will be counted and treated as an electoral college. Each section will be weighted equally to count for one third of the total vote.
When will the new leader be in post?
The exact timetable will be agreed by the Procedures Committee shortly, but the several stages are likely to take a number of months. Henry McLeish said yesterday he wanted the new leader to be in place by the start of the new parliamentary session in September, but that is unlikely if there is a proper contest.
Rebellion on twin tax plans likely
A DOUBLE rebellion over the 10p tax and retrospective changes to vehicle excise duty will cause fresh headaches for the government this week.
MPs are demanding Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, does more to compensate the 1.1 million lowest income households that will miss out after the government tried to mitigate the impact of scrapping the 10p tax band.
David Taylor, Labour MP for Leicestershire North West, is behind a move that would give an average of 60 to the losers, with a cap of 120. This would cost 66 million overall.
In amendments to the Finance Bill, MPs have also called for the Chancellor to think again about making higher road taxes for the most polluting cars retrospective.
They argue that applying the tax for cars bought between 2001 and 2006 will disproportionately affect poorer households.
The Conservatives tabled the amendment but 40 Labour MPs have also signed a motion opposing the plan and could join ranks with the Tories to scupper the tax.
Critics say the hike will cost one million motorists an increase of 200 each.
Gordon Brown is believed to have ordered Mr Darling to drop the tax in his Pre-Budget Report this autumn.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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